Stephen RyanMaking a pig of yourself!

Everyone knows the large growing Cyclamen persicum that you can buy throughout winter in almost any florist shop or nursery. Many of you have probably been given or bought one to sit on the dining room table and have then watched it slowly die. Any wonder that the genus has a bit of a bad name! Just as well we no longer call them “Sow Bread” as they were centuries ago, or giving them for Mother’s Day could take on a whole new meaning!

It would also be expensive pig food!

Although these giants aren’t the main subject of my blog I have to say that they aren’t indoor plants and will do far better on the veranda or under a tree, only taking them indoors when visitors drop by.

Delicate flowers on Cyclamen hederifolium

Delicate flowers on Cyclamen hederifolium

The wildlings are a different kettle of fish with their dainty little flowers, stunning foliage and amazing flowering periods. I fact I know of no other genus of tuberous plants that give such incredible value in the garden.

There are species that will flower throughout the year and most need little more than a cool aspect in a well-drained soil that is moist throughout the growing period of the plant in question. Plant the tubers below ground level then mulch with leaf litter and keep on doing it.

Cyclamen hederifolium 'Bowle's Apollo'

Cyclamen hederifolium ‘Bowle’s Apollo’

In fact you are probably its natural enemy as the dormant tubers make amazing targets for garden forks! I have some plants that are well over 40 years old and the tubers are as big soup tureens. They will even self-seed gratifyingly and often pop up in the most unexpected spots due to clumsy ants dropping their booty on the way home.

As they are small plants, remember that you can’t have too many, so plant a drift of one species so that it will be far more telling in the garden. In fact to misquote a long gone English horticulturalist “No matter how small your garden you should plant three acres of them!” I certainly love it when my customers shop in bulk!

Because we are at the end of summer lets discuss probably the best and most available species, Cyclamen hederifolium, which from February to the end of May will have masses of pink or white shuttle cocks. The first flowers erupt straight out of bare soil almost over night and although the flowers don’t come in a broad range of colours, this is more than made up for with the diverse patterns and colours of the leaves, which will make a statement from mid autumn right through until spring.

Cyclamen hederifolium pewter form

Cyclamen hederifolium pewter form

In fact true devotees are always on the look out for stunning variants. One of the early collectors was Edward Augustus Bowles (1818-1954) who spent years trying to get fully pewter leafed forms. He never succeeded but he did produce one that he called ‘Bowle’s Apollo’ with a stunning double silver shield pattern – the centre one often looks a bit like a Christmas tree. We should now call it Bowle’s Apollo Group as it does vary from seed and only the best forms should be sold by this name.

Funnily enough, later growers have produced fully pewter leafed forms, which are fabulous but again need to be rigorously selected and then segregated it you want to produce a reliable percentage of similar seedlings.

At some future time I will discuss other species in this wonderful genus that can literally be in flower all year round!

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Stephen Ryan

About Stephen Ryan

Stephen Ryan grew up and still lives at Mt. Macedon in Victoria where he has run his nursery Dicksonia Rare Plants since 1980. He was for 3 years host of Gardening Australia on ABC TV and is a regular on Melbourne’s 3CR. Sunday garden program. He has written 4 books and innumerable articles for magazines both in Australia and abroad and is also a sought-after speaker at garden clubs.

5 thoughts on “Making a pig of yourself!

  1. We inherited our 4 acres of Northern Tassie garden from my father when he died. He bought it 20 years prior as an acre of landscaped garden with 3 acres of bushland for hermit value. When we inherited it, it was 1 acre of weed infestation with 3 acres of wilderness. After some careful paring back (thank GOODNESS we decided to study horticulture!) we found some wonderful specimens inherited from the wonderful elderly lady who planned this acre to be something special. I can’t believe the plants that survived after my father decided that the extensive watering system was too expensive and stopped watering altogether. The dead tree fern stumps alone are enough to make you weep…BUT in amongst the ruination there are little pockets of survivors. We live on a steep slope that graduates its way down to the Tamar River and the soil spends most of its time as silty dust. Every year we get patches of Cyclamen hederifolium ‘Bowle’s Apollo’
    that pop up as reliable as the autumn rains and after reading this post I am incredulous at their survival. I had one pop up in a patch of bluemetal where I have some of our potted plants (too terrifying to plant them out amongst the wallabies and possum devestation!). I would say that anyone who has an area under trees or with a bit of shelter could grow these with minimal care. I would imagine they need a bit of cossetting at first (for a year) but after that they seem to make their way all over the place (via ants? You learn something every day 🙂 ). Cheers for a most entertaining and enlightening post 🙂

    • Dear Narf7!
      It was great to hear of your experience with Cyclamen species and it makes me think that perhaps I should have made it sound even easier as both you and I know it is!
      Regards Stephen

  2. Hi Stephen,

    I was thrilled to discover that Cyclamen hederifolium will do equally well under trees in Sydney’s coastal suburbs (Mosman) as it does here in Bilpin at 670 metres. That’s a real bonus. So many interesting little bulbs just don’t cut the Sydney climate.

    Peta Trahar

  3. Good heads up Stephen.

    That Eddy Bowles bloke got around a bit too. My best windflower is ‘Bowles Pink’. Must get some of his cyclamen now.

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